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Writing A User Manual (part 1)

Need to write a user manual, but don't know where to start?Our handy two-part guide takes you through the process, explaining theimportance of proper planning in the early stages and demonstrating howto build a consistent and usable stylesheet for document formatting.

  1. Writing A User Manual (part 1)
  2. Step By Step
  3. Asking The Hard Questions
  4. Making Friends And Influencing People
  5. Being Conventional
By: Deepa L, (c) Melonfire
Rating: starstarstarstarstar / 40
December 27, 2002

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Depending on who you speak to, documentation is either the best part ofa software project...or the worst.

Most developers wouldn't be caught dead writing a user manual - theymuch prefer spending their time building better, more efficientalgorithms. Their users, on the other hand, don't really care about thecode that powers a software application; they're more interested ingetting their work done quickly, with minimal errors.

That's where support documentation, in the form of a user manual, comesin. Usually considered one of the least important deliverables, it isslowly coming of age, as software companies begin to realize the valueof high-quality documentation that answers most user questions andreduces after-sales support calls (and expense).

Support documentation allows the user to use the delivered software withease and efficiency. Ideally, it comprises:
  1. Interface text: The labels on interface elements like menu items,fields, instructions, confirmations, error messages et al.
  2. Application messages: Operational error messages and warnings.
  3. Online documentation: Online help, tutorial and searchable helppages.
  4. Print documentation: User manual and technical reference manual.
These, in totem, are the user's support system for usage of thesoftware.

This article focuses on the user manual, explaining, from a technicalwriter's perspective, the process by which such a manual is developed,reviewed and delivered. I believe, though, that the process and planningtips are generic enough to apply to the other print documents, inaccordance with both their purpose and scope.

>>> More Practices Articles          >>> More By Deepa L, (c) Melonfire

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